“Now I know I can’t afford the koi pond and I’m okay with screaming neighborhood children. What’s my next step?”
More research! Ask your homeowner friends for real estate agent recommendations or carefully read through online reviews. Angie’s List and Realtor.com are solid places to start, as well as your state’s real estate licensing board website. If your potential agent has any complaints filed against them, you’ll find them on the board’s site.
After you narrow down several agents with good reviews, don’t hesitate to interview them over the phone before choosing one to work with. By asking questions like how long they’ve been in business, their experience in a particular housing market, if their past listings match the property types you’re considering, and which certifications they have, you’ll find the agent that best fits your needs and which you have the best rapport with. A reputable real estate agent will listen to you (imagine that!) and work with you to find what you’re looking for.
But not all real estate agents will work for you. For that reason, you should know the difference between a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent:
Buyer’s Agent: A buyer’s agent will try to get you the best deal on a home because they work for you. They can also get the lowdown on the seller- that the seller is a parent who’s keen to move before the school year starts, for instance- and that info can benefit you as a potential buyer. Your buyer’s agent can help you determine the right offer price for the home you want and negotiate that price if an offer is accepted. Your agent should have his/her Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR) cred.
Seller’s Agent: Also known as the listing agent, that’s the person on the For Sale placard on the seller’s lawn. The seller’s agent works on the seller’s behalf to get them the best terms and highest price from you- so if you tell this agent about your new promotion or financial windfall, you can bet that agent will try to talk you into putting a higher offer on the house. Awkward.
A buyer’s agent is by no means required for your search, it’s infinitely helpful to have a trusted agent advise you through the process, especially if you’re just starting your search or if you’re not very familiar with a particular market. Remember that a buyer’s agent may also work as a seller’s agent on some homes, and an ethical agent will be upfront with you on which listings he/she can or cannot advise you on.